Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: April 2010
ISBN: 9780399156526
Source: ARC provided by publicist (one of the most beautiful ARCs I've ever gotten, BTW)

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott is twenty-two when her family spends a summer in Walpole, New Hampshire.  Louisa is itching to be back in Boston, pursuing a career in writing, but feels obligated to help the family settle, especially since they are nearly destitute because their father won't work.  When she meets the aggravating and handsome Joseph Singer, her plans start to change a bit.  She faces a difficult choice, but could she possibly give up her most prized possession: her freedom?

Things I Liked:
It was a lovely story, full of bright experiences and a delightful main character.  I loved Louisa's spunk and her defiance of tradition.  Since I positively adore Little Women, I love to read about Louisa and see just how much of her own life is reflected in that book.  I find that especially ironic, since she hated having people ask about her personal life and how much she was like Jo.  Louisa is the star of this book, shining brightly with a barely concealed energy and zest for life that is contagious.  I particularly love that she had flaws too - lots of them.  She had a real temper and that came through quite clearly.  Sometimes her anger made me want to slap her for some of what she says or does.  Of course, I have a temper as well, so this part of her I related to very well.  Here are some lovely parts:

New Englanders spent much of the year shrouding their bodies from winter's frigid gloom, but August, hot and fragrant, drew them into the open.  Out-of-doors became a state of mind as well as a place.  In the meadows, vanilla-scented wildflowers the locals called joe pye weed broke into pink feathering blossoms and were soon papered with monarchs.  p 47 ARC
Anna was a blade of grass, swaying in the wind in concert with all the other blades.  Louisa was a rare bird poking its head above them, a thing with purple feathers and a strangely hooked beak. p 157 ARC
Life was moving on and she approached each day the way she would cope with a rotting front tooth and no dentist nearby.  One learned to smile with her lips closed. p 281 ARC
Things I Didn't Like:
I found I was annoyed by some things (though these are all more personal and not a reflection of the writing or author).  I can see that her father Bronson was an idealist that didn't do much more than dream, but having his daughters and his wife talk such trash about him behind his back seemed a little bit out of character.  Maybe I don't know enough about them, but it was annoying that they kept harping on it over and over.
[spoiler and rant] Also, I was annoyed at  Louisa and Joseph's little one night fling.  Really, is it always necessary to assume people in love can't control themselves, particularly during their period of time?  Also, Louisa mentions several times that marriage and love have nothing to do with each other.  I think her ideals about women's rights and freedom are great, but I got bothered that she had to take it to the point of looking down on those who choose marriage and family, even her own sister.  Just choosing a life of marriage isn't always "conforming to society's demands."  Really, I thought she was broad-minded.  If there were forward-thinking women at the time, there had to have been forward-thinking men. [end spoiler and rant]
For more fiction about Louisa and Bronson Alcott, try March by Geraldine Brooks

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (of course)
Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs is my favorite biography of her
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: X
really one scene

v-factor: none

Overall rating: *** or ****
(I'm pretty conflicted over this rating, I liked the book, but had a completely different opinion of love and marriage than that portrayed in the book.)

Any of you who've read this want to talk about it?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. I almost got this at the library this week, but I already had a huge pile so I ended up putting it back. Next time ...

    There is an annoying trend in historical fiction where women in the middle ages (for instance) suddenly have a modern feminist sensibility. I find it really jarring. It sounds like this book has a little bit of that although the time frame is nearer our own.

  2. Maybe I'll have to borrow this one from you! :) I've been intrigued by all the reviews...

  3. Caitlyn, I think I've noticed that as well! Louisa was a pretty forward-thinking woman, but this one took it a step too far for me.

    Suey, you are more than welcome to borrow it!

  4. I understand your rant because I've read quite a few of Lousia May Alcott's books and I don't think she had that negative a view of marriage at all, if you consider Good Wives and An Old-Fashioned Girl, just did not see it as necessarily the only or desirable choice for a woman, as with Nan in Jo's Boys. But I suppose that's the fine line all historical novelits must try and tread, between putting their own spin on a story and retaining historical veracity.

  5. Andie, it is a fine line to tread, but I just think it went a bit too far in this one. Still enjoyable, though.


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